Jul 22, 2011

Looking and studying -- Rikyu hyakushu

naraitsutsu mitekoso narae narawazu ni yoshiashi iu wa oroka narikeri
One learns by looking and studying. Without understanding completely one cannot criticize.
In the learning process, watch and learn.  Voicing opinions without having done this is foolishness.

Learning the way of tea is difficult.  At first, many things just don't make sense, everything is strange and it seems like you cannot control your own body in the tea room.  In a situation like this it is best to observe and get the lay of the land.

When I was in Midorikai, in orientation on the first day, Mori sensei advised us that the key to learning chado in Kyoto was sunao no kokoro 直の心. This means an open heart, ready to just accept anything from anyone. People in Kyoto lived and breathed they way of tea and just about everyone there knew more about tea than we did, even if we had studied at home for 25 years.  If I resisted, justified, offered excuses or complained, people were not likely to share their knowledge. He told me there were vast riches there about the way of tea, but I would have to become sunao. He said that sunao meant open without resistance, to take in everything as part of my training. To explain, offer excuse, or justify myself showed that I was not open but resisting the learning. I wrote more about this in the post Just say hai.

Criticizing is just a way to resist what is being taught.  So is arguing and disagreeing with the teacher.  Mori sensei said to just experience whatever the learning is, then reflect upon it later.  You will come upon insights and grasp not only what the teacher was trying to convey, but also the lessons that you were meant to learn.

Jul 18, 2011

The power of commitment

Sometimes when I talk to people who are interested in studying the way of tea, they demur when I tell them the introduction class is 10 weeks long.  I even had someone ask me if I could shorten that to two weeks because that was all that he could commit to for a class.  For some people it is hard to make a commitment of ten weeks.  For some people making a commitment at all is hard.   I understand.  I have had problems with commitment in the past.

For those who have trouble with commitment there is always the possibility of making a wrong choice and being stuck.   There are those who never have enough time to commit, or enough money, or enough support or enough....

But I have learned the power of commitment.  It is hard to close off your options and follow through on the one you have committed to, but once you have chosen a path, there is almost a relief that the choice is made, and movement is now possible.  If one is committed, there is no buyer's remorse. If one is committed, the narrowing of focus gives you energy.  If one is committed things seem much clearer to you.   If one is committed you can see the end game and all its rewards. 

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:  that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way.  I  have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:  "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic and power in it.  Begin it now."   ~W.H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

Jul 14, 2011

Expert Tea Master

Someone referred to me recently as a tea master, and I was embarrassed enough to correct them by saying I was still a student of tea.  In truth I still feel like such a novice on this path; there is still so much to learn. 

They say that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. By that definition, if you went to keiko for an hour and a half once a week, it would take a little more than 128 years for you to become an expert at chado, at least 2 lifetimes and perhaps more if you don't count formative years.

We could take a single aspect of the way of tea,  tea ceramics, for example, and say you spent 40 hours a week just immersed in it, it would still take you nearly 5 years to become an expert.  Yet you could spend 30 years studying tea ceramics and still not know all there was to know about it.  Take that and multiply it by the many other aspects of the way of tea: flower arranging, gardening, architecture, calligraphy, cooking, sweet making, literature, poetry, history, etiquette, kimono, wood working, lacquer, Zen, and those years add up very quickly.  Not to mention studying  the hundreds of tea procedures, tea utensils and types of  tea gatherings.

When people are first exposed to chanoyu, it seems so deceptively simple that anyone can do it.  What they don't know is that it has taken years of practice to make it look simple.  But even people just coming upon it can tell the difference between a beginner and a more experienced tea person.  Why is that?

I believe that watching an experienced tea person, you are not just seeing the procedure for making tea.  You are experiencing the heart of chanoyu.  The experienced practitioner imbues the temae with his or her heart and consideration for others.  When you and your body know the procedure by heart, you don't need to think about what comes next.  You can free your mind to concentrate on the guest.  There is no room for stage fright, or making mistakes.  The movements flow and awareness and feelings fill the room.  When the guest is experienced too, there is a magic that happens as host and guest become one.  Both are of the same mind and both contribute to creating an almost transcendent experience, often without a word being spoken.

This has happened to me just a few times in my years of study, when everything comes together.  I do hope that all tea students out there are willing to put in the hard work to be prepared for something like this.  Is it mastery?  I don't know.  It is the way of tea.

Jul 8, 2011

Learning one to ten -- Rikyu Hyakushu

Keiko towa ichi yori narai ju o shiri ju yori kaeru moto no sono ichi
Practice constitutes learning from one, becoming cognizant of ten, then returning from ten to one, the beginning.
Know that when training, learn from one to ten and return from ten again to one.

This is another one of Rikyu often quoted poems.  Learning from the beginning to ten makes sense as it is a logical progression.  Returning to one again seems like going backward to us.   But when we return to the beginning again, we gain new insights, perspectives and understandings because of the journey we have taken to the top.

I very much appreciate teaching beginning students.  It takes me back to when I was a beginning student and everything was strange and unfamiliar.  There is this excitement of starting and the energy of  something new.  This state of mind is something experienced tea students strive for.  Even though we have done the temae a hundred or even a thousand times, to make it seem brand new as if we are doing it for the first time and discovering it all over again is the challenge.

Even going from advanced temae back to ryakubon, I gain something new about it.  In other words I don’t necessarily return to the beginning again, but it is more like a spiral, coming back to a similar place but deeper and more meaningful.

At every intensive, everybody, including the most advanced teachers go back to the beginning again.  We start with bowing, walking, turning and moving in the tea room, then move on to folding the fukusa and handling utensils and purifying them.  I always learn something new from these from these lessons.  These lessons that I thought I knew, or I knew and forgot, or I knew but got sloppy bad habits.

I wrote more about this in the post  The right way

Jul 4, 2011

Born in Fire

Last Friday we had an incredible opportunity to attend a raku pottery lecture and demonstration by my friend Richard Brandt.  Richard is a tea student and teaches pottery so he invited tea students to attend his summer raku pottery class.  He put together a lecture about the history of raku firing and as a special treat, fired teabowls for us. Through his own experimentation, and his special glaze, he was able to make black raku teabowls for us.  Below are photos of the process.

Loading the kiln

Fire 'er up

About 30 minutes later check the glaze

Safety first

Pulling the pot from the fire

Don't drop it

On the cooling rack.  The coffee cans are used to slow the cooling down so the bowls don't crack. 

Transformation through magic of the fire

From the inside

And best of all, tea tastes so good

Other students in the class used newspapers and garbage cans after they pulled their pots from the kiln.

 Here you see the iridescence typical with American raku

Silver, gold, copper and a rainbow of sparkly colors